Monday, 20 June 2011
That sinking feeling
I'm running low on enthusiasm right now so I make no apology for the blog-destroying 18 days since I last wrote. Trust me, I was doing you a favour. My life was so dull that you'd have resented the mediocrity.
Things became more interesting last week; I had my interview at the US Embassy AND jumped out of a plane. Of these events the parachute jump will probably interest you the most. I'll keep you on tenterhooks about the visa for now...
Jumping out of a fully-functioning aircraft was not my idea. The decision came after I booked the tandem parachute jump my sister requested for her last birthday at the ill-named North London Parachute Centre. [Let's be quite clear, this place is NOT in London. It's about a 75-minute train ride from London's most northerly train terminal and then a ten minute taxi ride from the local station.]
As soon as speed-junkie Hank heard about my sister's tandem plans he wanted to jump too, so I hooked him up and then ... well the two of them couldn't really go without me. We first tried to jump last October but were hampered by the great British weather. So while Hank was in London for my sister's wedding last week we rescheduled the jump. At no point was I really looking forward to the skydiving but I figured all I had to do was strap myself in and, once up in the air, not say no.
And. I was right.
On a clear June day (yes, THE clear June day) I watched my precious Hank fall out of a gap in the side of an aircraft, powering through the sky way above the clouds. I was to be last to exit the plane and my stomach churned as my sister and her instructor shuffled forward, edging on their heels toward the doorway. I put Plan A into action: accept my own imminent death.
I shut my eyes the minute my sister and her instructor's hulking silhouette filled the door of the plane. I didn't see her jump. I didn't want to.
My instructor had made a casual comment to my sister's instructor on the way up about how he had used the wrong "rig". Jeeez, what the heck did that mean? Why would I want to see what was going to happen?!?!? As for my own jump, the lurching, falling sensation as I exited the plane would surely be worse if my eyes were struggling to fix on the ground thousands of feet below me. Sure, it was embarrassing shuffling towards the door with my eyes closed - I wished I'd chosen the mildly less shameful option of removing my contact lenses so I physically couldn't see and would therefore appear utterly fearless - but I had calculated on wanting to see the view at some point. Just not at such a high-up point.
My instructor, a very laid-back chap who'd scoffed a slice of pizza before the jump at 10:30am and was wearing yellow surfer shorts under his flightsuit, was probably smiling at my eyes clamped so firmly shut as I assumed the position we'd been taught in training. Sitting in the open doorway, the noise of the plane and the rushing air was utterly deafening as I gripped my shoulder straps tightly, curled my legs around to hug the underside of the plane and pushed my head back onto my instructor's shoulder. It seemed an eternity before he finally launched us out.
The first sensation was the unpleasant lurching of an incredible vertical drop. I think we were in free fall for about five seconds and may have flipped over completely before the instructor tapped my shoulder, the non-verbal signal which I had been taught meant "open out into the flying position", arms bent into right angles extended out to the side and forward. Of course, I was so scared that I didn't notice that tap on my shoulder the first time, or the second and it was only when the instructor grabbed my arms and pulled them out to the side that I remembered that I was supposed to be contributing here.
Realising that I had annoyed the guy in charge of my safety finally made me open my eyes and I noticed that the falling feeling had abated, presumably because air resistance was slowing our acceleration. We were breaking through the cloud level by this point and my contact-lensed eyes could soon discern other specks in the sky; Hank and my sister's parachutes. I was quite comfortable except for a mild popping in my ears and the air blowing my face so hard I had to open my mouth to relax my cheek muscles. Pretty soon the instructor advised me that he was going to open the parachute, there was a mild judder and I felt myself jolted into a seated position. And then we were just gliding over the beautiful fens of Cambridgeshire. Conversation was possible at this speed and altitude and after a few minutes the instructor pointed out the airfield below, where Hank was landing safely. He then angled my chute towards my sister's and she was descending so close to me that we could talk to each other without raising our voices, drifting like ships in a gentle breeze.
I always thought parachuting was for adrenaline junkies on a thrill quest. It turns out the great pleasure of parachuting for me was gliding downwards over a patchwork of English countryside. How strangely silent and solitary it all felt, considering there was a surfer dude strapped to my back.
I landed awkwardly, as I had suspected I would, but hurt neither myself nor my instructor. It had been expensive and was over pretty quickly; we can't have been descending for longer than four minutes. But what a great four minutes.
The skydive was the perfect antidote to the bad news from the US Embassy. I had not obtained the Police certificate the US apparently requires from the Japanese Police to prove that I committed no crimes when I taught English there. This certificate, sealed by the National Police and the Ministry of Justice in Japan can take two or three months to arrive - and that's in a year in which there has not also been a devastating earthquake in Japan. I am doing everything in my power to get the certificate back faster, writing a begging letter to the Japanese Embassy and even using BIG EYES but the absolute best I can hope for is to get back to DC by the end of July.
Once I get the Japanese certificate, I am told that the fiance visa will be approved unconditionally. The timescales, however, are now out of my control.
So I'm stuck in limbo for a little longer. Who'd have thought that would turn out to be worse than jumping out of a plane?